In a recent column published in the Times of London, Theophilos III of Jerusalem, the current patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem made some startling claims and audacious comments bordering on possible incitement and defamation and even reminiscent of anti- Semitic rhetoric from the Middle Ages.
In the column, the patriarch wrote the following:
“Our churches are threatened by Israeli radical fringe groups,” he wrote. “At the hands of these Zionist extremists, the Christian community in Jerusalem is suffering greatly. Our brothers and sisters are the victims of hate crimes. Our churches are regularly desecrated and vandalized. Our clergy are subject to frequent intimidation.”
The patriarch never brought any proof about specific hate crimes that Jews committed. The Israeli police are also unaware of such outlandish accusations and nor have they received formal complaints.
However, it appears that the crux of the issue is the long term lease of the Petra and Imperial hotels which were “apparently” approved by his predecessor. Since taking over, Theophilos has been trying to nix the deal which would see these two landmark hotels handed over to Jewish concerns with some possible involvement of Ateret Cohanim.
The Petra itself was first built and owned by the well known Jewish Amzalak family from Gibraltar around 1835/40.
After coming into financial hardships, the building changed hands until acquired by the Amdursky family. At this point in time about 120 years ago- it was the first Jewish owned and managed Kosher hotel inside the Old City.
The hotel was known as the Amdursky or Central Hotel from around 1890 until 1930.
It hosted many famous Jewish visitors like Rav Kook, Rav Salant, Eliezer Ben Yehud and organizations like the Mizrachi and the Hebrew University.
Due to the Arab pogroms of 1927/29 and an earthquake in Jerusalem in 1927, the Amdursky Hotel was eventually forced to sell the premises and it moved to Julian (king David) street and later to Ben Yehuda street.
With the long term lease managed by Jewish concerns in the Old City, the hotel stands a good chance of returning back to its former glory.
In the same Times column Theophilos makes the following statement: “it is at the Jaffa Gate that an Israeli radical group is seeking to occupy two big buildings, acquired through illegitimate transactions.”
His statement appears to reject the sale that took place well over a decade ago. This same sale was upheld by court after court and has been ruled legal every step of the way. (Including recently by the Supreme Court of Israel .
Can it be that in the 21st Century there are those who deny real estate transactions based upon religion? We understand there is a fatwa by the PA against selling to Jews, but it appears that Theophilos is insinuating doubt in the legality of the deal solely because it is a Jewish NGO involved – after all the sale was legal.
Theophilos is engaging in spreading false rumors about hate crimes, insinuating that Christians are suffering in the Old City when in fact all data points to Christians thriving in Jerusalem and Israel.
It’s time for the patriarch to stop spreading narratives that are rooted in the same sort of blood libels responsible for countless pogroms in Europe. Thankfully the Jewish people, the true indigenous people of the Land of Israel, have returned. It’s time for Theophilos to internalize that fact.
Clearly – it seems to this writer that any Jew, Christian or Moslem should be able to freely purchase and live in any and every neighborhood of Jerusalem.
And from what this writer understands, given the shabby and down trodden state of the hotels (especially the Petra) – it’s about time that someone renovated the premises and returned the hotels to their previous glory, making them available to all Moslems , Christians and Jews.